FEMA head defends $10 million transfer to ICE, accuses Democrat of 'playing politics'

The head of FEMA on Wednesday accused a Democratic senator of "playing politics" after the lawmaker claimed the Trump administration diverted $10 million from the agency to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to support immigration enforcement.

Brock Long, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, defended the transfer in an interview on MSNBC's "Andrea Mitchell Reports," saying it had nothing to do with response efforts and that the agency spends billions of dollars to manage disasters. FEMA's annual budget is estimated to be $15 billion.

"Right now, that money has nothing to do with what you see behind us," he said in an interview from the FEMA response center in Washington. "It does not pay for this response, it is not coming out of the disaster relief fund, it has no impact on our efforts to be prepared for Hurricane Florence, it's just, unfortunately, we have a congressman that is playing politics on the back of Florence. There's no story there."

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FEMA Administrator Brock Long
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FEMA Administrator Brock Long
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 31: Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Brock Long testifies before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill October 31, 2017 in Washington, DC. The committee heard testimony from Trump Administration officials about the ongoing federal response to the 2017 hurricane season. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
U.S. President Donald Trump receives a briefing on Hurricane Irma relief efforts from Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Brock Long (L) as the president arrives to tour storm damage with first lady Melania Trump (R) in Fort Myers, Florida, U.S., September 14, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
FEMA Administrator Brock Long listens as U.S. President Donald Trump holds an Oval Office meeting on preparations for hurricane Florence at the White House in Washington, U.S., September 11, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis
U.S. acting Secretary of Homeland Security Elaine Duke and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Brock Long speak to reporters about Hurricane Maria relief efforts after meeting at the White House in Washington, U.S. September 26, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. President Donald Trump meets FEMA Director Brock Long after arriving at Ellington Field to meet with flood survivors and volunteers who assisted in relief efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, in Houston, Texas, U.S., September 2, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Brock Long speaks to reporters about Hurricane Maria relief efforts after meeting at the White House in Washington, U.S. September 26, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. President Donald Trump holds an Oval Office meeting on hurricane preparations as FEMA Administrator Brock Long points to the potential track of Hurricane Florence on a graphic at the White House in Washington, U.S., September 11, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis
MIAMI, FL - MAY 30: Brock Long, FEMA's director, speaks to the media during a visit to the National Hurricane Center on May 30, 2018 in Miami, Florida. Mr. Long urged people to prepare for the upcoming hurricane season that officially begins on June 1, 2018 and ends on November 30th. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
FEMA Administrator Brock Long (R) and US Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen (L) speak during a 2018 Hurricane Briefing at the Federal Emergency Management Agency headquarters in Washington, DC, on June 6, 2018. - US President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump also attended the meeting. (Photo by JIM WATSON / AFP) (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 26: Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Brock Long talks to reporters outside the West Wing of the White House September 26, 2017 in Washington, DC. Long and Department of Homeland Security acting Secretary Elaine Duke talked about the federal response to hurricanes Irma and Maria in Puerto Rico. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Brock Long speaks during a press conference on federal response to Hurricane Irma at FEMA headquarters in Washington, DC, on September 12, 2017. Looking on are Homeland Security Acting Secretary Elaine Duke (C) and Senior Official Performing the Duties of the Under Secretary for National Protection and Programs Directorate Chris Krebs (2nd R) / AFP PHOTO / MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 26: Department of Homeland Security acting Secretary Elaine Duke (L) and Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Brock Long talk to reporters outside the West Wing of the White House September 26, 2017 in Washington, DC. Long and Duke talked about the federal response to hurricanes Irma and Maria in Puerto Rico. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
FEMA Administrator Brock Long speaks at a press conference regarding rescue operations from Hurricane Harvey in Texas, on August 28, 2017 at the FEMA headquarters in Washington DC. / AFP PHOTO / Paul HANDLEY (Photo credit should read PAUL HANDLEY/AFP/Getty Images)
Administrator Brock Long of FEMA speaks during a firehouse briefing on Hurricane Harvey in Corpus Christi, Texas on August 29, 2017. President Donald Trump flew into storm-ravaged Texas Tuesday in a show of solidarity and leadership in the face of the deadly devastation wrought by Harvey -- as the battered US Gulf Coast braces for even more torrential rain. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
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The story broke Tuesday night on MSBNC's "The Rachel Maddow Show," when Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon, allegedthat money earmarked for disaster relief and emergency response efforts had been taken out of FEMA's accounts and shifted to ICE.

The transfer occurred earlier this summer and such transfers between government agencies are not unusual. However, the movement of the funds is raising questions about FEMA's preparedness as Hurricane Florence charges toward the Carolinas and Virginia. Roughly 1.7 million people in the Carolinas and Virginia have been told to evacuate.

Merkley said Wednesday that the Trump administration is not taking its job serious seriously regarding disaster response and preparedness.

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Preparations made ahead of Florence
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Preparations made ahead of Florence
Houses are seen near high tide on September 11, 2018 in on Topsail Island, North Carolina, where many homes, already battling flooding and beach erosion, aren't sure what to expect with the impending arrival of Hurricane Florence. (Photo by Logan Cyrus / AFP) (Photo credit should read LOGAN CYRUS/AFP/Getty Images)
ATLANTIC OCEAN - SEPTEMBER 10: In this NOAA satellite handout image, shows Hurricane Florence (C) as it gains strength in the Atlantic Ocean southeast of Bermuda moving west on September 10, 2018. Hurricane Isaac and Helene can be seen to the east of Florence. Weather predictions say the storm will likely hit the U.S. East Coast as early as Thursday, September 13 bringing massive winds and rain. (Photo by NOAA via Getty Images)
Residents evacuate from coastal areas near Wallace, North Carolina, on September 11, 2018. - Hurricane Florence would deliver a 'direct hit' to the US East Coast, emergency officials warned on September 11, 2018, urging residents to heed evacuation orders and seek shelter from the potentially catastrophic storm. More than one million people in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia have been told to flee their homes as the hurricane churns across the Atlantic Ocean towards the coast. (Photo by ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS / AFP) (Photo credit should read ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP/Getty Images)
Customers line up to buy propane at Socastee Hardware store, ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Florence in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, U.S. September 10, 2018. REUTERS/Randall Hill
Hurricane Florence is seen from the International Space Station as it churns in the Atlantic Ocean towards the east coast of the United States, September 10, 2018. NASA/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY
The pumps at the Shell gas station on Western Boulevard featured 'out of gas' signs as people prepared to ride out Hurricane Florence on Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018, in Raleigh, N.C. (Casey Toth/Raleigh News & Observer/TNS via Getty Images)
South Carolina National Guard soldiers transfer bulk diesel fuel into fuel tanker trucks for distribution in advance of Hurricane Florence, in North Charleston, South Carolina, U.S. September 10, 2018. U.S. Army National Guard/Sgt. Brian Calhoun/Handout via REUTERS. ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY
Hurricane Florence seen over the Atlantic Ocean, about 750 miles southeast of Bermuda in this handout photo provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on September 9, 2018. NOAA NWS National Hurricane Center/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.
Customers line up to buy propane at Socastee Hardware store, ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Florence in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, U.S. September 10, 2018. REUTERS/Randall Hill
A photo taken from the International Space Station by astronaut Ricky Arnold shows Hurricane Florence over the Atlantic Ocean in the early morning hours of September 6, 2018. Picture taken September 6, 2018. Courtesy @astro_ricky/NASA/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT.
Boarded up houses are seen ahead of Hurricane Florence� expected landfall, at Holden Beach, North Carolina, U.S., September 10, 2018. REUTERS/Anna Driver
A beachfront home is boarded up ahead of Hurricane Florence, at Holden Beach, North Carolina, U.S., September 10, 2018. REUTERS/Anna Driver
A photo taken from the International Space Station by astronaut Ricky Arnold shows Hurricane Florence over the Atlantic Ocean in the early morning hours of September 6, 2018. Picture taken September 6, 2018. Courtesy @astro_ricky/NASA/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT.
A county worker drives astride the levy along Lowery Street September 10, 2018 in Lumberton, North Carolina, ahead of Hurricane Florence. In 2016 Hurricane Matthew caused catrostraphic flooding in Lumberton. - More than a million people were ordered to evacuate the path of Hurricane Florence as the Category 4 storm packing winds of 130 miles per hour (195 kilometers per hour) bore down on the East Coast of the United States. South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster told up to one million residents of the state's eastern coast to leave their homes ahead of the powerful storm's arrival on Thursday. The governor of neighboring North Carolina also ordered an evacuation of the Outer Banks and parts of coastal Dare County while a state of emergency was declared in Virginia. (Photo by Logan Cyrus / AFP) (Photo credit should read LOGAN CYRUS/AFP/Getty Images)
The water treatment facility sits along Lowery Street in Lumberton, North Carolina, September 10, 2018. In 2016 Hurricane Matthew caused catrostraphic flooding in Lumberton as well as the water treatment plant, causing thousands without water. - More than a million people were ordered to evacuate the path of Hurricane Florence as the Category 4 storm packing winds of 130 miles per hour (195 kilometers per hour) bore down on the East Coast of the United States. South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster told up to one million residents of the state's eastern coast to leave their homes ahead of the powerful storm's arrival on Thursday. The governor of neighboring North Carolina also ordered an evacuation of the Outer Banks and parts of coastal Dare County while a state of emergency was declared in Virginia. (Photo by Logan Cyrus / AFP) (Photo credit should read LOGAN CYRUS/AFP/Getty Images)
U.S. President Donald Trump holds an Oval Office meeting on hurricane preparations as FEMA Administrator Brock Long points to the potential track of Hurricane Florence on a graphic at the White House in Washington, U.S., September 11, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis
Tarek Elshik, left, fills gas cans to fuel a generator to refrigerate insulin for his 10-year-old daughter Yasmeen Elshik's Type 1 diabetes treatment in case power goes out during Hurricane Florence, on Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018, at the Exxon station on Western Boulevard in Raleigh, N.C. (Casey Toth/Raleigh News & Observer/TNS via Getty Images)
Tarek Elshik fills gas cans to fuel a generator to refrigerate insulin for his 10-year-old daughter Yasmeen Elshik's Type 1 diabetes treatment in case power goes out during Hurricane Florence, on Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018, at the Exxon station on Western Boulevard in Raleigh, N.C. (Casey Toth/Raleigh News & Observer/TNS via Getty Images)
President Donald Trump speaks to members of the media following a briefing on Hurricane Florence in the Oval Office at the White House September 11, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by ZACH GIBSON / AFP) (Photo credit should read ZACH GIBSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Vehicles line up September 11, 2018 as they exit Surf City, North Carolina, following a mandatory evacuation order and curfew ahead of the arrival of Hurrican Florence. (Photo by Logan Cyrus / AFP) (Photo credit should read LOGAN CYRUS/AFP/Getty Images)
Houses are seen near high tide on September 11, 2018 in on Topsail Island, North Carolina, where many homes, already battling flooding and beach erosion, aren't sure what to expect with the impending arrival of Hurricane Florence. (Photo by Logan Cyrus / AFP) (Photo credit should read LOGAN CYRUS/AFP/Getty Images)
Signs warn customers that alcohol sales are suspended at an Exxon station in Harbinger, North Carolina on September 11, 2018. - From Charleston's colonial mansions with finely-crafted balustrades, to fragile Outer Banks beaches, to exalted centers of American history, the tourism-heavy US East Coast is facing a potentially devastating blow from Hurricane Florence. (Photo by Alex Edelman / AFP) (Photo credit should read ALEX EDELMAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Residents evacuate from coastal areas near Wallace, North Carolina, on September 11, 2018. - Hurricane Florence would deliver a 'direct hit' to the US East Coast, emergency officials warned on September 11, 2018, urging residents to heed evacuation orders and seek shelter from the potentially catastrophic storm. More than one million people in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia have been told to flee their homes as the hurricane churns across the Atlantic Ocean towards the coast. (Photo by ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS / AFP) (Photo credit should read ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP/Getty Images)
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"I think it came as a shock to everyone that in the first month in the hurricane season, knowing what happened a year ago, that FEMA agreed to have $10 million taken out of its accounts, including significant amounts out of its response and recovery account and another significant amount out of its preparedness and protection account," he said. "So those are very relevant for responding to disasters, such as the approaching challenges from Hurricane Florence that's approaching the shore."

He claimed that the money moved to ICE was "to build more prison camps" for undocumented immigration at the U.S.-Mexico border. "I think what the American people would like to hear is what can we learn from Puerto Rico, from the Virgin Islands and from Texas, so we can do it better," he said.

The Department of Homeland Security pushed back against Merkley's claims on Wednesday, saying that the funds were unspent money from operational accounts for training, office supplies and headquarters costs, which cannot be spent on disaster response, according to The Associated Press.

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